It seems that every space film these days, from ‘Prometheus’ to ‘Oblivion’ to ‘Star Wars’, is shot in Iceland. But fewer know that this trend began over 400 years ago, with the German astronomer Johannes Kepler. Not only is he a founding father of astronomy, but he also dabbled in science fiction, writing a book called ‘Somnium’, often referred to as ‘Kepler’s Dream’.
The story, which takes place within a dream, is about the Icelander Duractus (no doubt as common a name then as now) and his mother Fiolxhilde. The mother, who happens to be a witch, grows tired of Duractos messing up her brew, and so sells him to a sailor who is then similarly frustrated by his seasickness. The boy is put ashore and left with the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who teaches him to speak properly (i.e. to speak Danish), as well as about the basics of astronomy.
Duractus returns home to Iceland and his mother, impressed by his newfound knowledge, decides to introduce him to the daemons she has the power to summon. These creatures describe travelling to the moon, which they call the island of Levania. The trip takes four hours, and passengers must put wet sponges in their noses to compensate for lack of air.
Levania and its inhabitants are described in detail, but sadly the protagonist wakes up before getting there. Still, both Stephen Hawking and Isaac Asimov rate this as the first ever sci-fi story. Take that, Tom Cruise.
Special thanks to Jón Gunnar Þorsteinsson.
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